Article and photo submitted by Nigel Clarke
Currently, a great deal is being said by different parties regarding a proposal to terminate the Alderney Bird Observatory’s lease/tenancy agreement at The Nunnery – some of it misleading and inaccurate.
As someone who has been closely involved in the Nunnery story, Nigel Clarke offers his personal observations.
Over the years, the States Members have explored a number of options as how best to utilise The Nunnery, a unique heritage asset. Eventually, they settled upon the plan for a Field Centre with hostel style accommodation and managed by the Alderney Bird Observatory (ABO) warden. It was to be used in respect of, birdlife, wildlife, and heritage interests.
The concept of a bird observatory on Alderney was the initiative of Paul Veron who developed the idea together with the Alderney Wildlife Trust. Initially, the AWT was given a tenancy agreement which provided for accommodation for a warden, when appointed. The AWT agreed to support the establishment of a bird observatory and provide initial financial support. The original tenancy agreement required amendments and, while a draft lease was produced, no further progress was made. Ultimately the States proposed a ‘licence’ arrangement for the use of the accommodation. However, this was not progressed, despite the then Chief Executive being instructed to do so in June 2019. Subsequently, recognising that the premises were not suitable for habitation, the Victorian era building was refurbished at a cost of £317,000.
Few people will be aware of the behaviour and actions of individuals including the former Chief Executive which contributed to the Alderney Wildlife Trust (AWT) relinquishing the Nunnery Lease in early 2019 and the eventual separation of the AWT from the ABO.
The current proposal before the States refers to the termination of a 12-month tenancy agreement which had a start date of 1st January 2020 yet was not signed until 30th July 2020. It was eventually signed on behalf of the former Chief Executive by a Civil Servant. This agreement appears to have been made without any authorisation or approval of any States Committee as official minutes are silent on the issue.
This raises questions as to who was responsible for producing the agreement, especially as it amended the criteria applicable to who could use the hostel accommodation to include ‘cultural’ uses . This change is particularly important as it effectively allows the ABO to openly compete with the Island’s hotels and guest houses. The accommodation sector is understandably concerned about competition from a States-subsidised accommodation provider who only pays an annual fee of £99/per annum for its use of the Nunnery, yet openly advertises ‘staycations’.
The intention of the States was for the Nunnery site to be run as a Field Centre alongside the bird observatory with the original proposed lease requiring strict adherence to a Nunnery Covenant.
The guidance this provided was to ensure the site was used appropriately. Alongside that was a maintenance and conservation plan, which included the eventual removal of ‘The Sunroom’. However, both the Covenant and Maintenance & Conservation Plan appear to have fallen by the wayside.
Visit Alderney is to be applauded for the work that has been carried out within the curtilage of the Nunnery site to exploit the heritage and archaeological value of the site. As one of the best examples of a small Roman fort in the United Kingdom, it is a unique visitor attraction.
Added to this, artefacts discovered during recent archaeological digs in the eastern end of Longis Common suggest there is a huge amount still to be discovered from the Iron Age, Roman, and Medieval periods. Clearly, the archaeological importance of the Nunnery and its importance as a tourist attraction far outweigh the needs of the Alderney Bird Observatory, which could probably be better housed elsewhere on the Island.
While I fully support the concept of a bird observatory (I was a member of the original ABO committee), there is no real justification for it to be sited within the Nunnery, a prestigious heritage site, especially as many ABO visitors choose to stay elsewhere on the Island.
The Nunnery has much to offer as a major visitor attraction, with opportunities for further development embracing the whole of the Nunnery Conservation Area, and this would also contribute to the Island’s GDP.